The Promise

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After a parents’ evening mix-up, Josh’s young daughter reminded him of the vow he’d made to her years earlier

“Josh Miller,” Josh said, holding his hand out to the young teacher sitting behind the desk.

Ever since the usual Year 3 teacher went on maternity leave a month ago, Lucy had been raving about her replacement.

“You must be the famous Miss Gordon,” he smiled, sitting on one of the two vacant chairs opposite her.

She was looking at him questioningly.

“And… is Lucy’s mother not joining us?” she asked hesitantly.

Josh blinked, then said, “Well, no. I thought you knew that.”

She certainly should have known, he thought crossly. When Lucy had joined the school last September, the Head teacher had assured him that the staff would all be made aware of the situation.

And even if – for some inexplicable reason – this paragon Miss Gordon was unaware that he’d lost his wife Ellie three years ago, surely Lucy would have said something?

Of course, Lucy had only been four when it happened – it might not be uppermost in her mind anymore…

She might even be forgetting her mother.

Josh pushed the unbearable thought away. Of course she wasn’t.

Was he being unreasonable? Even if Miss Gordon didn’t know Lucy’s mother had been the victim of a drunk driver – the memory still made him shake with fury – shouldn’t the teacher be tactful enough not to comment?

The days when you could safely assume that every child in a class was blessed with two parents were gone, weren’t they?

He looked around at the classroom while he tried to calm down. Having a go at Lucy’s new teacher wouldn’t help anyone.

The walls were plastered with the children’s paintings, and he thought he could see one of Lucy’s by the door.

His eyes returned to Miss Gordon. He could see why Lucy had said she was pretty, but he was in no mood to appreciate her blonde curls and big green eyes just now.

Miss Gordon was still wearing a puzzled frown.

“It’s just that I thought… well, today in class Lucy said…”

Then she stopped, seeing his glare. She smiled bravely, revealing wonderful dimples. Not that dimples made up for crassness, Josh thought.

“Anyway,” the teacher was saying, “you’ll want to know how Lucy’s getting on.”

“That is what I’m here for, yes,” Josh said pointedly. “We only moved here in September, and it’s an upheaval for a seven-year-old. Particularly when she’s had a change of teacher as well. And I’ve left her with a new babysitter tonight,” he added, looking at his watch.

Another fleeting frown crossed Miss Gordon’s unlined brow.

“Yes,” she said hesitantly, reaching for an exercise book. “She seems to be handling the disruption really well… Her reading and her number work are very advanced, and she has an excellent grasp of visual design…”

Josh glanced involuntarily at the picture on the wall of a girl with a skipping rope, and felt a surge of pride, but he didn’t let it show.

“By having ‘an excellent grasp of visual design’, do you mean she’s good at art?”

Josh was aware that this had come out sounding scathing, and he took a deep breath before adding, “She likes painting, certainly. But what about socially? Is she joining in?”

“Oh yes,” Miss Gordon enthused. “She’s a popular little girl.” After a few more comments on Lucy’s progress, Miss Gordon asked if there was anything else she could tell him.

Class dismissed, Josh thought, taking his cue and standing. Suddenly he couldn’t wait to get out of the place and go home to Lucy.

Miss Gordon clearly sensed his irritation, and gave a brittle smile.

“We’re all very pleased with her progress,” she added.

Josh nodded curtly at her.

“That’s something, I suppose,” he said, and walked briskly out.

The parents who had been hovering, waiting to see Miss Gordon, stared after him, but he didn’t look back.

When he got home, Lucy was still up, anxious to hear what he’d thought of her school and, of course, her teacher.

Josh did his best. He praised her work and her painting, and managed not to snort when she told him how nice Miss Gordon was.

At last, after reminding him that she needed some new ballet shoes, and asking whether he could teach her to knit, and whether they could have one of the kittens their neighbour’s cat had just produced, Lucy went to bed.

Josh continued to seethe all evening, even though he knew he was overreacting.

Miss Gordon had probably got a class of thirty kids: it would be hard to keep track of all their families. It was Friday and she’d had a busy week. And she was very young.

And maybe the information had never made it through the handover period.

Still. It was the weekend. If he was still furious on Monday, he could go and see the Head.

You could, of course, simply have explained the situation to Miss Gordon then and there, a little voice inside his head whispered. Then you wouldn’t be in such a state now.

He sighed, acknowledging the truth of this. Even after three whole years without Ellie, it was hard.

The hardest bit was the sympathy.

He didn’t think he could bear to see those big green eyes cloud over as he explained to the teacher.

But he should have said something. He owed that much to Lucy. He was being pathetic.

Ellie would never have put that poor young teacher in such an awkward position. But of course if Ellie was still here it wouldn’t have arisen.

Ellie was gone. He had got to get a grip.

A couple of times recently he had been on the verge of asking someone out. A step towards the new start he kept promising himself.

Not a proper date – just a coffee or maybe a pub lunch. But he hadn’t done it.

He must snap out of it. Time had gone on. He was feeling more ready, really he was…

Josh got up, made himself a cup of coffee and started to plan what to do over the weekend.

It would be Mother’s Day on Sunday, always a difficult day. He and Lucy should go somewhere nice. Somewhere with not too many mothers about. Which probably meant not going out at all.

He sipped his coffee and considered the alternatives.

He’d invite Ellie’s mother to lunch. Lucy would like that. And it would please Ellie. He glanced involuntarily heavenwards. He should have thought of it earlier.

He picked up the phone and smiled as his mother-in-law’s voice greeted him.

Lucy was delighted her grandmother was coming, and Saturday went by in a whirl of shopping and baking.

He and Lucy made enough cakes and brownies and luridly iced biscuits to feed an army of grandmothers.

On Sunday morning Josh woke to hear Lucy busy in the kitchen again. He opened one eye and looked at the clock. Quarter to seven. Great.

Before he could get up and investigate, his bedroom door opened, and there was Lucy, clutching a rattling tray, and looking very pleased with herself.

“Hey, Luce, what’s this?” Josh asked, struggling to a sitting position and grinning at her.

“Breakfast in bed,” she grinned back, plonking the tray on his knees with seven-year-old force.

“Breakfast in bed! Wow!” Josh said, looking at the slightly slopped mug of coffee and one of the chocolate brownies. “Thanks, Lucy!”

Lucy grinned again and handed him a large card she’d been clutching under her arm.

Happy Mother’s Day, it said in large letters, amid pictures of hearts and what looked like tulips.

“Miss Gordon said,” Lucy began, with another of those puzzled frowns that every female he came across seemed to give him these days, “She said…”

“Yes? What did Miss Gordon say?” Josh asked, sounding concerned.

“She said maybe I’d like to make a card for Grandma,” Lucy said, sounding puzzled again. “All the children in the class were making cards for their mummies, and Miss Gordon came over and whispered that she thought Grandma would love a card from me.”

Lucy was squinting at him, her head on one side. Josh felt his mouth go dry.

“And what did you say, Luce?”

“I told her,” Lucy said stoutly, “that I was going to give it to my Mummy.”

Josh gazed at his daughter, the cogs in his brain moving slowly, until they at last clicked into place.

“Ri-ight,” Josh said carefully. “And what did Miss Gordon say to that?”

The little girl shrugged. “She just looked as if she didn’t understand, and said something about getting hold of the long end of the stick.”

“Could she have said the wrong end of the stick?” Josh prompted.

“Oh. Yes. But how can a stick have a wrong end?”

Josh took a long sip of coffee.

“Good question,” he muttered.

“It was a promise,” Lucy continued, unperturbed. “When that car hit Mummy you said, ‘I’ll be your Daddy and your Mummy’. And you are, aren’t you?

“Because you promised. You do all the things that other people’s Mummies do.”

Lucy started to tick off his many talents on her fingers.

“You do the cooking, and the cleaning, and you sew my nametapes on, and you listen to me read and take me to ballet… and everything. And sometimes you work,” she added as an afterthought.

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Josh said, bending forward and kissing the top of her head. And that’s what I’d better go and explain to Miss Gordon, he thought.

The memory of how curt he’d been with the teacher came back to him. Why hadn’t he simply explained? No wonder she’d been confused.

She probably thought there was a new woman in his life. She could hardly quiz Lucy on that.

“It was a nice idea of Miss Gordon’s to make a card for Grandma, though, wasn’t it?” he said, thinking how he’d maligned the tactful young teacher.

As he pictured the slight frown on her face he found himself wanting to smooth it away.

“You could make a card for Grandma before she arrives,” he said, finishing his coffee and jumping out of bed.

He felt more ready to meet the coming day than he’d felt for a long time, and he smiled at the realisation.

It would take time, that was what everyone had told him, but this feeling he had now… surely it was a beginning?

“Right, Lucy,” he said, “We’ve got a lot to do.

“Let’s find you some paper and maybe some sequins and glue for Grandma’s card, and I’ll get lunch ready.

“You can help me lay the table, OK? And maybe after school on Monday we can go next door and see if there’s a kitten we could have. What do you think?”

Lucy’s eyes were shining. They were big and green and they reminded him of Ellie, but also of other eyes he’d seen recently.

Which was another thing he’d do on Monday. He’d go in to talk to Miss Gordon after school. He’d explain the situation and apologise.

Then he smiled.

And he’d ask her out.

Our My Weekly Favourites series of feel-good fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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